In a surprise move, Mayor Marion Barry has reversed his position on regulations that could make it possible for the Washington Hilton Hotel to undertake a major expansion program in the residential section of Adams-Morgan in Northwest Washington.
Barry's decision has angered Adams-Morgan residents and community activists who have been trying to stop the Hilton, at 1919 Connecticut Avenue NW, from expanding and demolishing three neighboring apartment buiildings on Columbia Road NW. The buildings have 339 units.
James O. Gibson, Barry's assistant city administrator for planning and development, announced the position reversal when making recommendations on hotel development at a D.C. Zoning Commission hearing last week at the Martin Luther King Library. Zoning commissioners are expected to vote Feb. 14 on the hotel expansion proposal and three others that could cause important changes in the city's zoning regulations.
If the Barry adminstration's recommendations are approved by the zoning commission, about 16 District Hotels that face major streets may be eligible to expand in residential areas.
Mary Youry, president of the tenants' association at Schuyler Arms, 1954 Columbia Rd. NW., one of the buildings that faces demolition if the Hilton expands, said after the hearing, "We've been betrayed by the mayor."
Virginia Johnson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the Adams-Morgan area, said, "They are expecting the mayor to protect them. But he sold them out."
Last summer, when Barry attended a rally held by Adams-Morgan residents to protest the Hilton's attempts to buy and demolish the apartment buildings, Barry said, "As a matter of philosphy, I am against expansion that would displace residents and disrupt neighborhoods. We're together on this one."
But Gibson said the revised recommendations reflect an attempt by the Barry administration to meet the city's needs for both housing and hotels, while taking neighborhood concerns into consideration. With the convention center on its way, the city needs to offer incentives for hotel development, he said.
The convention center is expected to attract more conventions and conse- quently more visitors to the city. In addition, hotels provide thousands of jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers, according to Gibson.
Gibson said he doesn't know how many of the approximately 16 hotels that face major streets have the required land -- not separated by alleys or streets -- on which to expand.
Gibson also pointed out that a major issue for citizens' groups and planners is conversions from apartments to hotels in neighborhoods near downtown. Gibson said the conversions have become a growing phenomenon here, as apartment buildings owners attempt to bypass rent control and the city's moratorium on condominium conversions.
Nearly 1,500 such conversions to hotel or transient use have occured within the past two years. Gibson recommended to zoning commissioners that such conversions be banned in most sections of Washington so that an estimated 250,000 of the city's 278,000 dwelling units -- about 90 percent -- can be protected.
Gibson said his overall recommendations "will protect far more housing in Adams-Morgan than has been done since 1929."
Last August, the zoning commission approved an emergency 120-day moratorium on conversion or demolition of buildings for hotels in residential areas. In December, the moratoirium was extended to April 1. The commission is considering amendments to the zoning regulations that are expected to become effective by the time the moratorium expires.
Residents had requested the moratorium, contending that conversions and hotel expansion worsen an already tight housing situation, destroy the character of neighborhoods, cause traffic problems and displace people.
The Barry adminstration's recommendations on hotel development drew fire from community activists, City Council members and hotel operators.
During the recent zoning commission hearing, the Hotel Association of Washington submitted a lengthy statement asking the commission not to place more restrictions on hotels in Washington by blocking expansion. Representatives of the group noted that hotels benefit the city by contributing to the tax base and employing thousands of people. They suggested that hotel construction be premitted in some residential areas as well as in those which have commercial and mixed zoning areas.
One speaker pointed out that the city had commitments from hotels to expand when city officials asked Congress to approve the convention center.
Citizens' group representatives countered that hotels belong downtown in commercial areas. Some residents said they fear the owners might demolish buildings and rebuild hotels in their place to overcome the prohitibtion on conversions.
A coalition of about 250 community leaders and residents held a press conference last week to protest the adverse impact hotels have on a dozen city neighborhoods.
Adams-Morgan leaders sponsored a rally at the District Building Monday to protest Barry's position on hotel expansion. Five of the leaders were allowed to meet privately with the mayor and Gibson, but they left complaining that the mayor hadn't changed his mind.
Eleanor Walker, 90, a tenant in The Wyoming, 2022 Columbia Road NW, one of the buildings threatened by the Hilton expansion, said she has lived there for 19 years. She moved there when she returned from serving as a missionary for 15 years in Japan and 30 years in China.
She wants to stay there, she said. Her church, the St. Stephen and Incarnation Church at 16th and Newton streets NW, is within walking distance, and she helps on Sunday with a program that feeds the ederly and poor.
"It's my home," Walker said. "It's international, a lovely place to live."
Jack Woodard, rector at St. Stephen, asked zoning commissioners to "sweep aside the details and the alphabet soup," and consider the human side of the issue in deciding what is right and wrong.
Another major hotel whose plans for expansion have come under fire from citizens' groups is the Sheraton Park, located in the Woodley Park area in Northwest Washington. Sheraton Park executives plan to replace the present building with a new 1,500-room hotel and convention center, but residents are complaining about more traffic and already crowded parking.
Gibson told zoning commissioners last week that the Sheraton Park would not qualify for expansion under the recommended regulations because its address is on Woodley Road, which s not a major street. But he said later that since the original hotel fronts on Connecticut Avenue, the location would have to be taken into consideration before a final decision was made.
Zoning commission chairman Ruby McZier said persons who have additional information to submit for the commission to consider may do so in Room 9A of the District Building through the end of this month.
After the zoning commission makes its decision on the recommendations, the decision will be referred to the National Capital Planning Commission for its comments on federal impact. The zoning commission then will take final action.
City planners said that while the number of hotel and motel rooms in the suburbs has increased rapidly since 1965, Washington has seen only a slight increase in its number of rooms. With the civic center in old downtown expected to draw some of the country's largest conventions, officials estimate that about 6,000 additional hotel rooms could be needed. Planners estimate that the city currently has about 16,000 hotel rooms, and that proposals already have been made to increase that number by 35 percent by 1985. p